Kiera Australian Shepherd

She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

She’s also smart, athletic, a snap to train, devoted, telepathic, and my right-hand girl. In fact, she’s everything you could want in a dog — and more.

It’s the “more” part that gets most people into trouble. The truth is — for as beautiful and brainy as Australian Shepherds are — they aren’t for everyone.

The question is: Are they for you?

Let me walk you through a few key points to help you decide.

In order to live with and raise a healthy, happy Aussie, you really do only need to know a couple of things. If you get a book on Australian Shepherds, these points will be covered, albeit a bit casually. It’s just that these couple of things are huge.

Way back at the beginning of my love affair with Australian Shepherds, I wish I’d known the depth and breadth of the importance of these points. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. I hope that by stressing the vital and critical need to do these few things if you do decide you still want an Aussie, I will have set you down the right path for many years of trouble-free, blissful enjoyment with your incredible dog.

1. Research breeders and lines. Unless you plan on herding, don’t get an Australian Shepherd from working lines.

First, finding a reputable breeder is key to finding a healthy dog. (Aussies are known to have some health issues that are more likely to show up in litters of backyard breeders and puppy mills.) Start by checking with the AKC website. Then check with your vet and local dog trainers. These guys are usually fountains of information on such things. Talk with a few breeders before you make your selection. The breeder should be more than happy to answer as many questions as you have. In fact, a good breeder will have just as many questions to ask you.

Also, research the lines (the genealogy of both sire and dam going back a few generations) from which you’re getting your Australian Shepherd. Working lines (as opposed to show lines) are bred for having a very strong mind and strong herding instincts — neither trait is well-suited for the average family home. Unless you plan on herding (yes, as in sheep, cows, or ducks) with your Aussie and/or you’re a very experienced dog owner, it’s best to stay away from working lines. If you have children, definitely stay away from working lines. (If you have young children, consider a non-herding breed altogether.) If you don’t have time for a high-energy, strong-minded dog, you don’t have time for Aussies.

2. Socialize, socialize, socialize. And then socialize some more. And then some more. I’m not kidding.

While some Australian Shepherds are friendly goofballs, most are pretty reserved. In fact, that’s the breed standard — they’re not bred to be everyone’s bud. In order for them not to become shy and/or suspicious, they need to be socialized.

Books and breeders concur that socializing is important. That’s very true — of all dogs. But just exactly how much socializing are we talking about? A couple of strolls down Main Street? A few kids over? That might be enough for an easy going Lab, but it’s not even close to a beginning for an Aussie. I’m here to tell you that you need to make this your #1 priority in a big way. In fact, this is the single most important thing you can do for you and your puppy.

What books and breeders are often remiss in mentioning is what happens if you don’t do a good job here. Let me fill you in. As herding dogs and protective herding dogs at that, getting your dog used to all kinds of people and situations in and out of your house is key for her while she’s young. Otherwise, you’ll have a dog that’s wary of people and new situations, or worse.

By worse, I mean having a dog that won’t let people onto your property or into your house without at least intimidating the heck out of them. Or,